When Mean Girls Grow Up and Join The PTA
Hi, I am Shannon and I was the Vice-President of the PTA for about 91 days.
When I resigned from my elected position on the PTA, it was in the middle of a swirling vortex of snarky emails, biting texts, lots of eye rolling at meetings and an endless amount of gossip flowing. Those were all MY behaviors! Oh, I should pause here and mention to you that I am the owner and lead therapist of a Christian counseling practice. Yep, the seasoned licensed professional mental health counselor, who also self identifies as a Christian, had become a mean girl.
When I finally sent “the email” that officially pulled the plug on my exceptionally unpleasant PTA experience, I had to sit back and do some serious self-reflection on what exactly had happened to me in the short span of about three months. The normal me is funny, mellow, encouraging of others and happy to be real upfront about my own character defects. I have been a counselor for enough years to know that authentic transparency with ourselves and others is vitally important to our emotional well-being. So what the hell happened to me?!
The bottom line is that our environment greatly impacts us. I started out in the PTA with high hopes that we could make a positive impact on the new charter school that our children were attending. What I found was a seriously dysfunctional version of “Survivor: Elementary School.” Alliances were being formed and flaunted in front of everyone in a show of superiority above other PTA members. A lot of female chest-pounding and primal howls could have been metaphorically heard. I am not good at creating tools out of people and I began to rapidly fall down the PTA food chain.
During one of the Board meetings, it sort of all came to a moment of clarity for me. We held that particular meeting in the empty school cafeteria and I chose to step out of my Vice-President role and silently observe the room from the lens of a therapist. What I saw was the same psychological abuse that middle school girls endure everyday but it was coming from twenty, thirty and forty year olds. The room was segregated among alliance pairings and newly formed cliques. The tone of each human pod reflected their particular role within the bigger group dysfunction. One pod was complaining about this and another pod complaining about that. Essentially, it was a human train wreck hidden behind forced smiles and suburban mom attire.
I knew I had to leave the PTA when instead of remaining true to my core values of how mature women should behave, I caught myself jumping into arguments that rivaled the reality TV shows that I truly despise. One good knock down PTA verbal brawl took place in the school library during an overwhelming candy bar sale. Have you been there? Candy bar selling season? It’s precisely the thing that mini-bottles of Vodka were made for. They fit nicely into purses. I am joking! Maybe. Anyways, like I said, I am the owner of a counseling practice and that’s basically code for “If I don’t work, I don’t make money” and since I am an equal breadwinner in my household, being away from the office mid-day had a personal financial impact on me.
On the day I went to help with the candy bar sale, I entered with hopes of volunteering for an hour or two and running back to the office. What I found instead were angry PTA members who needed a punching bag and apparently I looked the part. They immediately made snarky comments about the limited time I had to contribute. What they didn’t realize was that leaving my office to come volunteer literally cost me close to $500 in lost revenue into my business and ultimately my family budget.
I tried to use all my good counselor techniques and defuse the situation but it only resulted in one woman standing up and full on yelling at me about how she had been volunteering so much for the candy sale that she didn’t have time to do her laundry. Laundry?! I sat there exhausted from my typical 12 hour work days and had a hard time finding sympathy that she couldn’t do her laundry while her kids were at school. I usually do laundry at 11pm or on the weekends. This chick was not going to get much sympathy from me and yet, she was truly stressed according to her capacity for a busy schedule. We were at a stand-off of two women truly not being able to relate to one another and at that moment, not really caring. It was out of that lack of empathy that the mean girl behaviors began to escalate.
I had the ability to leave the PTA and not look back. By the way, it was a very hard decision because I felt I was letting my child down but I couldn’t keep allowing grown mean girls to ridicule me and I couldn’t allow myself to become like them. So, what do you do if you can’t resign from the PTA because you’re surrounded by mean girls at work or some other entity you are not willing to leave? I have one piece of advice: Stay true to yourself, your values and your image of yourself no matter what is happening around you. It is hard, I know. If you can be successful, you will have accomplished something I couldn’t but perhaps you will be a part of showing the way for other women who are watching for your lead.
I wish you all the best in your journey to stay funny and sweet, when surrounded by mean girls who grew up and chose to remain mean.